Even Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came face-to-face with the consequences of bad spelling this week, when a user of his campaign's iPhone application noticed the phrase "a better Amercia." By Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had fixed the flub, but the phrase had already become an Internet meme: It had its own "Amercia is With Mitt" Tumblr account and #Amercia Twitter hashtag.
Louisa Moats, author of several textbooks about language, said good spelling, in a word, means credibility.
"If a paper or an application or a report or even an e-mail contains spelling errors, people who read it judge it harshly," she said. Research even shows that people with misspellings on job applications and résumés are less likely to get interviews.
Moats and others say many public schools now give the subject short shrift in instruction. "That's the shocking thing," she said. "You can walk into many classrooms these days and there is no spelling program, there is no spelling book." Even if there is a spelling program, she said, it's "an afterthought, and it's usually just a list of words that kids are told to go and learn - there's very little instruction in how it all works, how it makes sense."
J. Richard Gentry, an educational consultant and author of the 2004 book The Science of Spelling, said the USA's reading problem is partly a spelling problem.
"Across the country we have all these fourth-graders who are failing reading tests, and we've seen this pattern for about 15 years," he said. "Guess what we stopped doing about 15 years ago? We pulled all the spelling books off the shelves and stopped teaching spelling - or at least we put it on the back burner."
Gentry said many schools still teach spelling, but that it "varies to a ridiculous degree." In many communities, he said, spelling has all but disappeared simply because it isn't tested annually on state reading exams.
Gentry called spell-check technology "a boon to spelling education," but added, "It doesn't mean that it replaces the dictionary in the child's brain."
Mignon Fogarty, a Reno, Nev., writer who hosts the popular Grammar Girl podcast, says students these days are more likely to use the wrong word than to misspell one. Just last Tuesday, Fogarty said, she came across a real estate listing that touted a home's "volted ceilings."
"Spell check may be helping us spell more words properly," she said, "but we're still in trouble when we don't know which of those properly spelled words to choose."
Speaking of spelling
As Mitt Romney clinched the GOP presidential nomination with a victory in the Texas primary Tuesday night, his campaign released its "I'm with Mitt" app that allows users to post photos of themselves along with 14 different pro-Romney slogans.
One of those slogans: "A Better Amercia."
Jokesters had great fun mocking the campaign for the typo on Twitter and other social media.
"Mistakes happen," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said on MSNBC Wednesday morning. She said the campaign submitted a corrected app to the folks at Apple. The fix didn't take long - by Wednesday midday the app was typo-free.
Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment on the company's App Store process.
By Catalina Camia